Month: January 2016

King Kong

K

Navigate a dangerous lost island in pursuit of your leading lady.

PC Release: November 21, 2005

By Ian Coppock

One of the oldest truths in the world of video games is that game adaptations of movies are absolute shit. You see it all the time these days; movie studios commission what must be a team of monkeys to shit out a sub-par tie-in to a major motion picture, to capitalize on the movie’s hype without actually putting in any effort. 1982’s video game adaptation of E.T. the Extra Terrestrial is the most infamous example of this trend. Released on the Atari 2600, the game was absolute garbage, but sold like hotcakes because of the popular movie it was advertising.

Today, however, I wish to challenge this truth with a video game movie tie-in that is actually (gasp) quite good, or at least far superior to what we usually see in this genre. Peter Jackson’s King Kong: the Official Game of the Movie (or King Kong for short) is that game.

____________________

Because this game is no longer available for digital download and remaining CD copies are priced at a small fortune, this review will be less a consumer-focused advocacy plan and more a critical analysis of how to make a movie tie-in video game good. Peter Jackson’s Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game of Peter Jackson’s Movie, by Peter Jackson, is a video game retelling of Jackson’s own 2005 retelling of the classic King Kong film.

Just like in the movie, a 1930s-era film crew led by Carl Denham (Jack Black) arrives at a forgotten island to shoot a movie, only to find that the island is inhabited by savage natives, hungry dinosaurs and the titular ape-monster himself. Kong takes a liking to actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), and spirits her away. As screenwriter-turned-guerrilla fighter (or gorilla fighter, ba-dum-psh) Jack Driscoll, it’s up to you to save Ann and escape the island’s prehistoric horrors.

K1

Jack Driscoll, played by Adrien Brody in both the film and the game, serves as the main character out to rescue the damsel in distress.

Jack’s levels are the classic FPS setup; first-person with lots of guns and a few environmental weapons to lob around. As in the Call of Cthulhu game I reviewed a few weeks ago, the game goes for a minimal heads-up display, with no health or ammo bars. Unlike CthulhuKing Kong actually implements them well, with lots of clearly defined sounds indicating where you’re at with both resources. The successful implementation of this system makes the game more atmospheric, without sacrificing playability.

As King Kong‘s marketing material was quick to parade, you also spend a few levels playing as Kong himself. These levels are in third-person and typically comprise big brawls with other animals, including a thrilling recreation of the V-Rex battle from the film. As Kong, players also spend time destroying buildings a la Godzilla, and running tree-swinging obstacle courses through the jungle.

K2

DIE BITCH

Playing as Kong was the best part of the game; the developers managed to capture the experience of being a giant angry gorilla with every shaking screen and every mighty wallop. It’s a shame that these levels were so few and far between; most of the game is Jack running around in the jungle shooting dinosaurs.

Which isn’t to say that’s a bad thing on its own, but it does become monotonous. You fight through endless mazes of jungles and ruins for most of the game’s 10-hour length. If you run out of ammo, there’s always a conveniently placed pile of bones to draw rib spears from.

K3

Luckily there are lots of different enemy types to keep things fresh.

Though King Kong‘s visuals are a bit blocky by modern standards, they were cutting-edge at the time. Even today I can appreciate the effort that went into the game’s lighting and weather effects. Playing as both Jack and Kong is not an innovative experience, but it is remarkably smooth, especially for a movie game.

Now that I’ve given you the basic idea of how the game looks and plays, what makes it an especially good movie game? Lots of games at least attempt mechanics like the ones I’ve described here, but what makes the game truly jump out from its mediocre genre?

K4

RUNRUNRUNRUNRUNRUN!!!!

Well, firstly, the game’s voice cast is the actual cast from the film. Everyone from the movie signed on to voice their video game adaptations, meaning that the voice acting was almost universally decent, another rarity for movie tie-ins. It also made the game feel much more like the film; most games like this only manage to capture a shallow facsimile of their host movie’s look and feel. Not this one.

Another crucial element to this game’s quality is changing the story to suit a video game format. Too many movie games try to stretch five-minute scenes into hour-long levels, with disastrous results. Even worse is when random plot elements or enemies are shoehorned in to inflate game time, but only accomplish making the game feel that much cheaper and more ridiculous. King Kong‘s story was written by Peter Jackson, the same dude who did the movie, and he was helped in rewriting the story by, of all people, Michel Ancel, who directed Rayman and Beyond Good & Evil. Together, Jackson and Ancel created a new story that, while similar to the film’s, is altered to suit the structure of a video game. I’ve never seen another movie adaptation of a film do this, and it’s one of the biggest reasons why they’re all terrible.

K5

The game is not afraid to take some creative license with the source material, and that’s probably what saved it from being a crappy game.

The third and perhaps most obvious reason why the game was a success is because it had more money poured into it. Studios get a bit cutthroat when merchandising their movies, and that’s why we see so many shitty movie games. But, Jackson was apparently content with investing enough cash to actually make a quality game. It just goes to show that the more you put into something, the more you get out of it.

So yeah. The key ingredients to a good movie game are: actually putting some goddamn money into the project; rewriting the story to suit a video game format; and bringing in at least some of the movie cast to ensure quality voice acting and increase the feeling of immersion.

K6

Changing things around for a new format is almost never a bad idea.

In the world of movie games, King Kong is a flower growing from a pile of cow feces, but I wouldn’t say it’s a great video game in and of itself. Most levels are very linear and heavily scripted, and the game itself is a bit long for my liking. Jack’s shooting is rather generic and the game’s color palette seems to consist almost exclusively of gray-green patterns.

But, Kong’s gameplay was quite innovative for its time, and if I haven’t said it enough already, King Kong is one of the rarest things in the world: a game adaptation of a movie that doesn’t suck shit harder than the Northern Metropolitan Sewer System.

K7

Plus, you can never go wrong with dinosaurs.

Like I said up top, there are no official digital downloads for this game. I’m sure there are a few floating around on forums and torrent sites, but I haven’t bothered to find one. My CD copy doesn’t work on current systems, so I wouldn’t recommend getting the game that way either, especially with how outrageously priced it can be.

I reviewed this game not necessarily to recommend it to you as a purchase, but because I found the game to be pretty decent and wanted to dissect how it successfully pulled off emulating a movie. With that said, next week we’re diving back into more classic games and more serious recommendations. I might go watch King Kong now, or perhaps Jurassic Park.

____________________

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Advertisements

Rayman 2: The Great Escape

R

Rise up against the evil pirates enslaving your home world.

PC Release: November 18, 1999

By Ian Coppock

Once again we happen upon a classic video game and a personal favorite of mine. The Rayman series has proven a mainstay in the worlds of 2D and 3D platformers; it was also, arguably, Ubisoft’s flagship franchise until the debut of Assassin’s Creed. Rayman 2 is a game that influenced my love of platformers from an early age, and its zany, beautiful worlds ignited my love of video games in general.

____________________

Before we get started in earnest, a word on Rayman, the first game in the series. Rayman was a 1995 2D platformer that wasn’t ported to Windows until the last few years. I tried to play it on my machine, but alas, I failed, so we’re going to skip to Rayman 2. But, it should be noted that the game was a critical and commercial success upon launch, leaving audiences smitten with its bright colors and novel characters.

In stark contrast to its predecessor, Rayman 2 is a fully 3D game with elements of open-world, action-adventure games, and a dark storyline. Rayman and his games are also the flagship product of Michel Ancel, an eccentric video game sorcerer who would go on to design Beyond Good & Evil, as I noted in last week’s review.

R1

Rayman 2 was the eponymous character’s 3D debut.

Rayman 2 takes place in a world called the Glade of Dreams. The game opens as the Robo-Pirates, a gang of mechanized slavers, takes Rayman hostage aboard their massive flagship. Rayman is imprisoned alongside thousands of his fellow misshapen, weird-looking alien things.

All hope seems lost, until Rayman’s friend Globox (A.K.A. Retarded Frog) arrives and helps him break out of the ship. From there, it’s up to Rayman to save the Glade’s inhabitants and bring down Admiral Razorbeard, the Pirates’ merciless leader.

R2

Razorbead will abscond with all of the Glade’s inhabitants in shackles… unless Rayman can stop him.

Not long after breaking free from the pirate ship, Rayman stumbles upon an internment camp and frees its sole captive, a fairy named Ly. Ly charges Rayman with re-awakening Polokus, an ancient creature who created the Glade. If Rayman can bring Polokus all four Masks of Power, the slumbering god will reawaken, and destroy all the pirates in one fell swoop.

Rayman thus sets out on a new journey across the Glade’s many worlds. He’s in for a perilous journey, as the pirates are committed to stopping Polokus’s return. The Masks’ ancient guardians will also not take kindly to his interloping. Rayman is aided in his quest by Globox, whenever the fat bastard isn’t busy getting captured, and a race of big-nosed fairy things called Teensies.

R3

Holy shitsnacks, boys, those are quite the schnozes you’ve got there.

Rayman 2 is set up as a linear set of levels. Most are pretty substantial, taking anywhere from 1-3 hours to complete. Some areas of certain levels will be blocked off until you go back and explore older levels more thoroughly. Once Rayman has collected enough Lums of Power (read: Cocaine Fairy-Balls) he can unlock the next area and progress. You can also find bonus levels off the beaten path that offer gameplay bonuses.

The level design in this game is sprawling and varied. A few levels are lined up into a certain theme, like a swamp, but Rayman will also explore underwater caves, hilly regions, mountains, and the decks of the pirates’ flying ships, to name a few places. These levels rely on a single group of core mechanics, like climbing up old vines, but are arranged in a new fashion every time, keeping things fresh. Not like these days, where the term “variety” means “five minutes without a quick-time event.”

R4

Rayman 2’s levels are big and colorful.

With sprawling level design comes the likelihood that you’ll get turned around. The levels’ main paths are pretty straightforward, but I was annoyed to find some hidden areas that were concealed a little too well. One such path lead to a hidden temple with an extra hour of gameplay! All the Teensies were hiding up there laughing and making jokes at my expense. Little bastards.

The cameras in Rayman 2 can be fickle as hell. You’ll want to murder anyone who had anything to do with cinematography once you’ve made five attempts at climbing a wall obscured by your own camera’s viewpoint. I probably don’t need to explain this in detail, but cameras are at their best when they’re smoothly following the player’s movements, and not when they’re trying to crucify us to paths out of view.

R5

Is the cameraman drunk off his ass? What is he drinking and where can I get it?

But, I digress. Camera and level design problems don’t happen enough to constitute a deal-breaker. It’s just that when you create a game like this, with big colorful worlds that you can lose yourself in for hours, control over the camera greatly affects immersion. It affects your sense of being in that world.

Control over your character also makes a huge impact on immersion, so let’s take a glance at how Rayman navigates these worlds. Rayman 2 is, as I’ve stated, a third-person platformer, so Rayman spends a great deal of his time hopping between platforms, floating and otherwise. Rayman can also fight the pirates by firing lums from his fists, granting players a shooting mechanic. The pirates you’ll face are usually armed with laser cannons and, of course, pirate hooks.

R6

Rayman’s lum attack auto-aims and can travel a pretty long distance. You can also charge up for one-kill shots.

Rayman 2’s levels also involve some light puzzling, if you can call throwing a glowing ball onto a pedestal puzzling. It’s not much of a mental roadblock but it adds another colorful conundrum to the diversity of Rayman 2‘s level design.

Being an older game, you’ll also be in for plenty of boss fights. Rayman will find himself up against gross monsters as much as the pirates he’s sworn to fight. Some of these boss battles have some innovative mechanics, like racing across platforms, but some are also just good ol’ fashioned brawls. There’s some good game variety to be found here.

R7

Well, now we know where Natural Selection’s game design came from…

As you can tell from these screenshots, Rayman 2‘s visuals haven’t aged well. The character models are embarrassingly polygonal even for a late 90’s game. The fairy’s character model looks like someone took a trapezoid and put it atop an anorexic scarecrow. Razorbeard look like a can opener had sex with a junkyard.

But, though the visuals may cause the graphics whores among you to cringe, I can assure you that the game hasn’t lost its color or sense of scale. I can’t guess how many fuzzy pastels went into coloring this game, but its worlds are impressively vibrant even by modern standards. The levels’ multiple regions and skyboxes are also quite thrilling, helping to grant the sense of a grand adventure.

R8

COME AT ME BRO

The narrative itself is a surprisingly dark tale of rising up against fathomless evil. What little dialogue there is is typed up for us to read while the characters talk in gibberish, which was a nice little touch for the sense that we’re in an alien world. Just like with Beyond Good & Evil, it would seem that Michel Ancel had a flair for hiding dark subtexts within brightly colored worlds.

As one might expect, Rayman 2 doesn’t have a lot of character development. Rayman is the heroic, brave, limbless weirdo we all know him to be. Globox is the game’s Chris Farley, a fat sidekick who displays comedy and cowardice in equal measures. That’s really about it; you’ll find Teensies and Globox’s innumerable children but they’re all clones of the same cloth.

R9

Though its characters are simple, this game’s little story is strangely endearing.

It’s at this point that Rayman 2‘s design elements help the narrative stick the landing. Rayman’s lonely struggle against the pirates is reinforced by his hours spent wandering a dark, alien world by himself. A variety of sound designs and morose music create an atmosphere rich with mysticism, almost voodoo. Though Rayman can fight, he’s clearly outnumbered by the pirates, making the game quite difficult in some areas.

Finally, we have the artwork that serves as a reminder that, even though this world is far different from our own, the plights of its characters are a familiar story. It helps to kindle some kindred spirit toward these goofy-looking creatures, Rayman especially. Michel Ancel would go on to take Rayman in another direction, but this game was perhaps his deepest, most narrative-driven journey. For that, I highly recommend you pick it up and play it if you haven’t already.

R10

I love you Rayman, even if your head looks like a sarcastic potato.

Rayman 2: The Great Escape is not available on Steam, but you can find a functional copy over at Good Old Games. These guys are hellbent on optimizing really old games for everyone to enjoy, and the copy I bought worked on my Windows 7-laden supermachine like a charm. You can get it for five, six bucks, and should play it. It may surprise you.

____________________

You can buy Rayman 2: The Great Escape here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Sonic Adventure 2

2

Save the world from the machinations of a mad scientist and his pet space gun.

PC Release: November 19, 2012

By Ian Coppock

Our two-part examination of the Sonic the Hedgehog series continues with Sonic Adventure 2. Though core fans of the series will probably scoff at my decision to skip the original 2D Sonic games, the Sonic Adventure games were the first ones I ever played. Additionally, both games represent a fulcrum between the original games and the 3D installments to follow. Sonic Adventure 2 is a quality game, but it’s also the last quality game that the series put out.

____________________

Like the original Sonic Adventure, Sonic Adventure 2 bucks the series’ 2D origins in favor of 3D levels. The game was originally released in 2001 for the DreamCast console, and only ported to PC in the last few years. A multiplayer expansion called Sonic Adventure 2: Battle was released shortly thereafter, as a swan song for the DreamCast.

Taking place sometime after Sonic Adventure, the game starts off with Dr. Eggman, Sonic’s portly and poorly named adversary, breaking into a remote military base. Eggman, expecting to find a weapon, ends up freeing a black hedgehog named Shadow from cryogenic suspension. In return for his freedom, Shadow agrees to help Dr. Eggman take over the world.

A

Eggman and Shadow scheme toward world domination.

Shadow begins robbing banks in pursuit of the Chaos Emeralds, seven magical gems that no one can seem to keep track of. Because the humans of Sonic’s world are apparently colorblind, Sonic is mistaken for the robber and arrested by the military.

Shadow and Eggman move the bulk of their operations to the ARK, an abandoned space station founded by Eggman’s late grandfather decades ago. Aboard the station is a giant space gun that, once powered with all seven Chaos Emeralds, can blow up the planet. Sonic breaks out of jail, catches wind of this nefarious plot, and sets out with his friends in yet another showdown with the maniacal scientist.

A1

It’s a new race for the Chaos Emeralds.

Sonic Adventure 2 makes a few changes to its predecessor’s formula. The game does away with the open-world hubs in favor of linear sets of missions. Additionally, the characters’ story arcs are compiled into two competing stories, Hero and Dark, that show off the two factions’ sides of the same narrative. I’ll admit that it’s a smoother way to compile the characters’ stories, but the hub worlds were part of what made Sonic Adventure so fun, and I was sad to see them go.

Sonic Adventure 2 divides its six characters into three mission archetypes. Sonic and Shadow’s levels are the same linear racetracks and 3D platforming we saw in the last game, with even more nauseating camera angles. Knuckles gets his open-worldy levels back, along with Rouge, a treasure-hunting bat who signs on with Eggman. Finally, Tails’ levels see him blowing shit up all over the place in a robot walker, as do Dr. Eggman’s, who for the first time in the series is a playable character.

A2

Getting to play as the bad guys is usually pretty cool.

As with the last game, you have to complete all of the characters’ stories to unlock the final mission. Though there’s no hub world to tie it all together, the Hero and Dark story arcs arrange their characters sequentially for variety’s sake. Completing each one is just a matter of hitting one campaign level after another.

The levels themselves further refine Sonic Adventure’s decent design. Speedway levels are packed with more variety in terrain, like platforming and grinding along on rails. Knuckles’ and Rouge’s treasure-hunting levels are bigger than ever, with lots of nooks and crannies to search for those emerald fragments. Tails’ and Eggman’s levels are chaotic arrangements of explodable stuff, meant for a slow and heavy approach to combat.

A3

No shortage of ridiculous stunts in this game.

Sonic Adventure 2‘s visuals also received a decent upgrade from the last game. Character models in this game are much better rendered, and the environments pop with as much color and variety as in Sonic Adventure. Sonic Adventure‘s god-awful lip syncing and character animations receive badly needed upgrades too.

Though all of this level design and visuals business is well and good, it doesn’t disguise a few new flaws from inadvertently popping up. Most of the levels in Sonic Adventure 2 are short, like a few minutes. The treasure hunting ones can take longer but most of the speedway and mech levels can be finished with flying colors immediately. Most of Sonic Adventure‘s levels were longer and sometimes transcended 2-3 different regions. These ones are right quick.

A4

Alright, time to break in, blow up stuff and… oh, we’re done?

Sonic Adventure 2 also suffers from the same goddamn camera issues that plagued its predecessor. The camera in this game will fight you; it goes into its own angles and pivots at the most inconvenient times. The game attempts to do a fixed-camera thing for certain areas, like when you’re taking elevators, but you move through the game so quickly that the camera is swerving back into position just as rapidly as it went out.

Luckily, controls are much more manageable, and you can easily respond before your character careens into a skybox. The PC version of Sonic Adventure 2 does not have any controller support, making the bad cameras even more of a crucial issue, but you can get used to them with some practice.

A5

Controls take some getting used to but it’s a doable task.

Sonic Adventure 2‘s excellent if short level design makes it a fun little game. The controls are more responsive and there’s even more to look at. But what of the narrative? In Sonic Adventure we saw a laughably enjoyable journey to save the world, complete with corny dialogue.

This time around, the dialogue is no better written. It’s the same cheesy sentiments and awkwardly worded sentences. But, they are better delivered by the voice actors than last time around. Rather than flatly or over-excitedly stating the dialogue, the performances delivered feel more natural. The game’s rocking soundtrack is better too, with more refined musicianship instead of concussion-inducing power chords.

A6

The dialogue is still laughably bad but I’m confident that the voice actors delivered as best a performance as they could under the circumstances.

The core story itself has some interesting concepts, but you might have noticed from my tagline up top that the narrative differs from Sonic Adventure’s very little. Just like in the last game, Dr. Eggman is on a quest to take over the world using an ancient entity that requires the seven chaos emeralds. True, this time it’s a giant space gun instead of a giant watery croctopus monster, but it’s the same damn storyline. It’s just dressed up with different parts.

And, yet again, Sonic is racing against Eggman to collect the emeralds before Eggman does. Knuckles is, yet again, trying to find the pieces of the eighth and largest Master Emerald. Tails is, once again, operating advanced machinery in Sonic’s shadow. I will admit that getting to play as the bad guys is a nice change of pace, but that’s about the only change of pace to be found in Sonic Adventure 2‘s narrative structure.

A7

Seriously, why isn’t anyone keeping tabs on these damn emeralds?

Like the last game, though, Sonic Adventure 2 is a good choice for playing something that requires minimal brain cells. You can beat the whole thing in a day or two and will probably be a little bit happier for it; just don’t try to grind on rails in real life. The Chao Garden returns from the last game bigger and better as well, so you can kill time between levels raising the little creatures with items you find.

If you’re looking for a new platformer with some lovably bad Japanese-to-American dialogue and decent level design, you should pick this up when it’s on sale. The story is nothing special, but the level design and big bright levels are immensely entertaining.

A8

YAAAAY

The bittersweet part of this review is that this was the last quality Sonic the Hedgehog game to be released, all the way back in 2001. Though 2010’s Sonic Colors was reportedly pretty entertaining, subsequent follow-ups to Sonic Adventure 2 were just… meh. And I should know; when I was younger, dumber, and owned a GameCube, I spent who knows how much time playing additional Sonic games.

Sonic Heroes, released in 2003, was a fun but shallow game in which four teams of characters competed through the exact. Same. Levels. Shadow the Hedgehog introduced gunplay and teen angst to the series with laughable results, and Sega’s attempted reboot of the series with Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) is rated as one of the worst video games ever made. Sega has since flung Sonic into weird spinoffs involving everything from customer service to medieval knights. With the Blue Blur’s 25th anniversary coming up soon, hopefully he can find his footing again.

A9

Sonic’s tarnished legacy is so bad that a web series called Sonic for Hire does nothing but poke fun at it. Ironically, the videos are quite funny, portraying Sonic as an inept alcoholic desperately trying to be a big star again.

And now, an Art as Games special: “Ode to the Retarded Cat” dedicated to my favorite Serbian, Nikola Muckajev:

(ahem)

There once lived a cat named Big.

He was dumber than a rotten fig.

He lost his pet frog,

Proved himself a fish hog,

And rowed home on a broken-down rig.

A10

Shore’s over there, dumbass.

____________________

You can buy Sonic Adventure 2 here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Beyond Good & Evil

B

Expose an ancient conspiracy and save your world from its clutches.

PC Release: November 19, 2003

By Ian Coppock

Again with the old games? Absolutely! As longtime readers have probably noticed by now, I don’t really care when a video game came out, as long as it has some novel elements that catch my eye. I have a haphazard list of games to play, and I don’t get paid to do this, so I figure I get to write about whatever I want. I’ll take suggestions if you have them, but for now, I’m powering through a catalog of classic games that are still fun and relevant even 13, 14, 15 years later. Tonight’s game, Beyond Good & Evil, is no exception.

____________________

Beyond Good & Evil comes to us from the manic, genius mind of Michel Ancel, the creator of the Rayman series. Ancel is an eccentric psycho-artist who, as anyone who’s played a Rayman game will attest, fills his worlds with huge environments and ambitious, memorable characters. He’s one of the greatest designers of our age and perhaps the greatest platformer designer of all time.

But, Beyond Good & Evil is not a 2D platformer, nor a Rayman game. It’s actually a surreal open-world adventure that meshes many styles of art into a single, novel canvas. Jade, a photojournalist and our leading lady, lives on a planet where humans coexist with anthropomorphic animals (think Animal Crossing, but with fewer pitfalls). For centuries, her homeworld has been besieged by an alien race called the DomZ, who drain their victims’ life-force for energy. Jade and her adopted uncle, a pig named Pey’j, run an orphanage for abductees’ children.

Don't ask me how these two are related.

Don’t ask me how these two are related.

After running a few jobs around town, Jade begins to suspect that the military forces purportedly fighting the aliens are actually in league with them, and sets off on the most dangerous journalistic assignment since the Iraq War. Along the way Jade is assisted by the IRIS Network, an underground organization committed to her same suspicion, and Pey’j, who’s as handy with a well-swung wrench as he is any orphanage chores.

Beyond Good & Evil is a third-person adventure game, with elements of platforming, melee combat, racing and stealth. Jade is most at home sneaking around the big facilities she’ll infiltrate, but she can knock out enemy soldiers and hostile wildlife with her magic staff. Like many platformers of its time, BG&E incorporates puzzles into its levels as well. Say what you will about old-school games, this one has a lot of diverse level design.

Being sneaky isn't your only option.

Being sneaky isn’t your only option.

In a style similar to Sunday’s Sonic the Hedgehog, BG&E‘s open world is an overarching hub with links to smaller, more linear areas. Because the planet Hillys is mostly ocean, Jade gets to and from levels aboard her trusty hovercraft. In addition to the mainline third-person dungeoneering, you can also photograph rare animals and take part in water races around Hillys. Both activities will contribute to character progression and give you currency for upgrades. Magical pearls can be found around the world and traded in for new duds.

Jade also has to make more subtle investigations around the world, giving players an opportunity to explore this truly bizarre landscape. Hillys is a mishmash of things and faces; humans interact with intelligent animals, and rustic European architecture is clad in futuristic technology. You can seamlessly transition between the IRIS Network’s headquarters, the orphanage, and points within the sprawling capital city. The game’s artwork is brightly colored and gorgeous to look at. The graphics haven’t exactly aged well, but they haven’t lost their visual novelty.

Lots of little things to do and see in this big, weird world.

Lots of little things to do and see in this big, weird world.

Despite a big bold world and an interesting premise, Beyond Good & Evil‘s gameplay leaves a lot to be desired. The game was obviously designed with consoles in mind, which is fine, but the Steam version has no controller support. Joystick movement doesn’t always translate well into WASD, making movements clunky. Combat’s pretty okay though.

But, no matter what platform you’re playing this on, the game’s menus are awful. All of the game’s functions and inventories are tied up into the most bewildering menu system that I’ve ever seen. Ever. It doesn’t help that all of the pages are arranged into a spiral. Different items are sorted into different areas for arbitrary reasons that I can’t begin to guess at, and navigating it is just a nightmare. Not sure what went on here.

Looks equally horrible on console or PC.

Looks equally horrible on console or PC.

 BG&E‘s level design has its problems as well. It’s easy to get turned around in this game, with lots of samey-looking corridors that twist and turn all over the place. But, as with the overworld linking all of these levels together, the design is varied and interesting. There’s a good mix of puzzles, combat and platforming going on here. You’ll also find a few fixed-camera stealth areas reminiscent of Resident Evil.

BG&E‘s overworld design is much simpler than the linear areas, which is ironic when you think about it. Locales of interest are spread out across wide areas, and you can take plenty of detours to interact with the humans and animals around you. As with the Rayman games, this world is also loaded with hidden nooks requiring some dedicated sleuthing to uncover. Finding them all can make the mainline game experience a lot easier.

Not all hidden areas are unguarded.

Not all hidden areas are unguarded.

At this point some of you might be wondering why Beyond Good & Evil remains such a legend of the early 2000s, when the market was swarmed with dozens of games just like this at the time. A lot of the features I’ve spent the last few paragraphs rattling off are perfectly at home in lots of other games. What makes this one so special? Why do so many people call this the greatest platformer of all time, or even the greatest game?

I think it’s because that, while Beyond Good & Evil is not the best game ever made, or the return of Christ in green pants, it strikes some unusual chords for a big bubbly platformer. Jade is a curious chimera, having been sexualized by the gaming industry yet retaining likeable, human qualities. Her character has a believable evolution throughout the course of the story, going from cautiously complacent to very courageous. That bravery in the face of grave danger is one of her most likeable qualities. She’s just a very human character, if that makes sense. Throughout her story, the character exudes a tremendous amount of empathy to the world around her. To complement her good feelings, she’s a total badass to the enemies she faces. In short, she’s certainly one of gaming’s most heroic characters. She’s well-written, well-acted, and feeling like someone you’d want to befriend.

Plus, how often do we get to play as a journalist in video games?

Jade's exceptionally well-written heroism and empathy make her one of gaming's most likable characters.

Jade’s exceptionally well-written heroism and empathy make her one of gaming’s most likable characters.

Another factor contributing to Beyond Good & Evil’s lasting legacy is the themes its story hits upon. While the other characters of the story are reasonably well-developed (even the ones with only a line or two of dialogue) Beyond Good & Evil surprises yet again with its dark tone. Though you may not think so to look at its big bright world, BG&E hits upon some deep themes, including human trafficking, human rights, authoritarianism and freedom of the press.

A lot of these themes are presented indirectly, in a show-don’t-tell fashion. You’ll infiltrate a human trafficking facility where the horrors of the trade echo from cages instead of being delivered in explicit dialogue. The IRIS Network’s challenges as an underground news organization are directly inspired by the woes of the grassroots press in authoritarian countries. In short, it paints a very dark background to counterbalance the jokes and light-heared humor present in the actual dialogue, a balancing act that’s pulled off brilliantly. It also serves as a way to make Jade’s character shine even more in the face of adversity.

Go hero.

Go hero.

Now the golden question must be asked; does such an old game work on modern machines? The reports on the game’s Steam page are hit-and-miss, but tragically, I was unable to get Beyond Good & Evil to work properly on my PC. The lack of controller support was disappointing, and I spent too much time trying to configure a good resolution. The game does not seem to support widescreen resolutions; ergo, it’s a clunky port. I hope that Ubisoft considers re-optimizing it, especially since Beyond Good & Evil 2 is in development (for real this time, guys!)

I would say that you should at least buy the game, see if you can get it to work, and make up your mind before Steam’s two-hour refund limit expires. It won’t protect you from bugs you’ll find later in the game, though. I don’t know, between a few unresponsive controls and a nightmare of alternating video screens and alt-tabs, I couldn’t make it work. Maybe you’ll have better luck, because with older games it seems to be a system-by-system basis. I wish you luck in getting this to work, because Beyond Good & Evil is a treasure that all gamers should get the chance to experience.

____________________

You can buy Beyond Good & Evil here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Sonic Adventure

S

Save the world from the machinations of a mad scientist and his pet water monster.

PC Release: September 14, 2004

By Ian Coppock

It’s hard to believe, but we’re coming up on the 25th anniversary of the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. To mark the occasion, I’ve decided to take a look at Sega’s flagship series, which earned critical acclaim in its early years and substantial derision later on. Sonic the Hedgehog started out his career as nothing more than a foil to Super Mario, and has since taken on a vaster, more complicated legacy of his own. Today’s game, Sonic Adventure, remains one of the high points of the Dreamcast era, and seems like a good standpoint for looking at the franchise as a whole.

____________________

Sonic Adventure was originally released for the Dreamcast console in 1998, but it has since been ported to PC, and a director’s cut edition is available on Steam. The game marked the first time Sonic had been adapted to 3D, following his wildly successful 2D debut in 1991’s Sonic the Hedgehog and beyond. This game pits Sonic and friends against arch-nemesis Dr. Robotnik, who seeks to take over the world with the aid of an ancient creature.

The Blue Blur's latest adventure puts him in a 3D world.

The Blue Blur’s latest adventure puts him in a 3D world.

Sonic Adventure also marks the first time that Dr. Robotnik would start being called “Dr. Eggman” in English versions of the game, which makes him impossible to take seriously as a villain. Unless the poultry industry is starting up a door-to-door delivery service, nobody should be called “Eggman”. When I was younger, stupider, and more oblivious to bad writing, I took the Eggman title in stride. Now it makes me cringe.

Anyways, to cement his chances of world domination. Dr. Eggman is out to get seven magical gems called Chaos Emeralds. His watery friend, conveniently called Chaos, grows bigger with every emerald he’s fed, and to feed him all seven emeralds would unlock a terrible power, one that the scientist seeks to wield. So, the game is basically a race against Dr. Eggman to find the seven Chaos Emeralds first. Fitting, considering Sonic’s proficiency with speed.

If Chaos eats all seven Emeralds, he will be unstoppable.

If Chaos eats all seven Emeralds, he will be unstoppable.

How does Sonic find the Chaos Emeralds? By racing at supersonic speeds through several vibrant worlds. From sandy beaches to floating islands, players can guide Sonic through these thinly disguised racetracks to the emeralds at the end. A few levels incorporate minigames, like pinball, but most are linear speedways adorned with gorgeous skyboxes and big pastel colors. For the most part, it’s an enjoyable and well-build 3D platforming experience.

Sonic isn’t the only one fighting against Eggman. You can take the reins of five additional characters, and play their story arcs as well. Sonic’s sidekick Tails gets his own high-flying missions. Knuckles the Echidna embarks upon a treasure hunt in open-world renditions of Sonic’s levels. For some reason a giant retarded cat who’s looking for his pet frog is shoehorned into the story, but the levels within the other arcs are fun to play through.

Each character gets his or her own story arc, and different objectives to complete in the same levels.

Each character gets his or her own story arc, and different objectives to complete in the same levels.

To revisit the level design for a moment, I personally feel that Sonic’s transition to 3D was not as unpleasant as many core fans believe. Maybe it’s because I was a newly minted fetus when the original Sonic games were tearing it up back in ’91. Or, maybe it’s because that while the complaints about awkward character controls are valid, the level design is tight and varied. Sonic can be expected to run linear tracks, do loop-de-loops, ride helicopters, surf lava, and blow shit up all in one level. You can also hunt for treasure and new abilities in the open-world hubs connecting these levels. It’s a confident amount of variety for a franchise’s 3D debut.

Now what are these character control complaints, you might ask? Well, to be fair, the controls in this game are pretty clunky. Sonic’s are very sensitive to the touch; one brush against the joystick at high speeds can send you careening into an abyss. Other characters’ fighting mechanics basically consist of pointing in the general direction of what you want to hit and hoping that your character’s knuckle punch or tail whip actually hits something even three feet away. The camera controls have a mind of their own and will fight your attempts at a good angle.

And don’t even get me started on the retarded cat’s fishing challenges.

Precarious ledges and awkward controls are not a winning combo.

Precarious ledges and awkward controls are not good bedfellows.

And though you get to play as a half-dozen brightly colored freaks, there’s no doubt that Sonic takes center stage. You can’t even play as other characters until you happen upon them in his story arc. He also has more missions; way more. Some characters get like three missions and their arcs can be completed in an hour or so. Though some arcs are way too short, others don’t overstay their welcome. They get on with their subplots and then it’s back to the mainline action. Suits me fine.

Another subplot-mechanic-thingy running behind the scenes is the Chao Garden, where you can take a break from running and fighting to rear the eponymous baby aliens. Chao can be fed items that you collect in your missions, and evolve a la Pokemon into bigger and better creatures. There are a few Gardens scattered around the hub worlds and it makes for a diverting, if shallow, side activity. Chao even play a role in the story later on, though it doesn’t require any Chao-rearing on the player’s part.

These little creatures can be raised between missions and even play a role in the story later on.

These little creatures can be raised between missions.

The main story of Sonic Adventure is not difficult to follow, but the dialogue is god-awful. A combination of awkward Japanese translation and over-enunciation on the voice actors’ parts makes cutscenes almost unbearable. The game’s sound design is further rounded out with random audio cuts and music that’s played at 10x the volume of dialogue. Sonic Adventure‘s soundtrack, while catchy, was played with a band that must’ve had no less than six guitarists, three drummers, and four aspiring facsimiles of Nickelback’s Chad Kroger. Any spoken dialogue is immediately drowned out by the headbangiest suburban rock music you’ve ever heard, necessitating subtitles.

Some parts of this game’s story are also just downright silly, but we’ll cut Sonic Adventure some slack. This is a kid’s game, not a gritty crime drama or one of my awful horror games. Dr. Eggman’s plan to tear down the city and build a new one, rather than just taking over the city, is that so-bad-it’s-good type of funny. It’s not a high point that most of the humor in Sonic Adventure is unintentional, but it’s still humorous. The bad facial animations are particularly amusing.

It's like that Super Mario 64 face-pulling mini-game.

It’s like that Super Mario 64 face-pulling mini-game.

So what’s my final say on this modern re-appraisal of a 12-year-old game? Most Sonic fans will tell you that the 2D games are good and anything 3D is bad, but that’s a claim that I contest. This game, while clunky in many respects, is a far better transition to a new style than I would’ve expected. I don’t know if the same can be said about post-Sonic Adventure games, but the big vibrant worlds and excellent level design are something any gamer can appreciate.

On the Sonic franchise as a whole, it’s hard to know. It’s no secret that the Sonic the Hedgehog series has been in the gutter for the last decade or so, though 2010’s Sonic Colors was reportedly decent. I’ve gone back and played a few of the old 2D games and found them to be enjoyable. As for this game, if you’ve got a few bucks to blow and a few hours to kill, Sonic Adventure is a good way to rev up that old-school 3D platforming nostalgia. It’s also available as part of Steam’s Dreamcast Collection. You might have to toy around with it a bit to get it to function, but I had no major problems on my PC playthrough.

DERP

DERP

Except the retarded cat.

____________________

You can buy Sonic Adventure DX here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth

C

Investigate a dark town and the insidious evil hiding beneath it.

PC Release: April 26, 2006

By Ian Coppock

Hello everyone, and welcome to the 2016 review series, which I aim to make Art as Games’ most memorable. As I get back into the swing of things, I’d like to take a look at a few classic games that I’ve been meaning to write about for years, but never got around to. Tonight’s review is a critique of Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. Despite its commercial failure and numerous design flaws, Call of Cthulhu is significant for several innovations in the survival horror genre, and is thus worthy of modern reappraisal.

____________________

Call of Cthulhu is, of course, based on the eponymous horror-verse created by H.P. Lovecraft. It is a partial adaptation of The Shadow over Innsmouth, originally published in 1936. Despite a troubled development cycle and having several gameplay features amputated for the sake of time, Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth was well-received by critics nigh a decade ago. Unfortunately, it sold poorly, and frustrated audiences with its high difficulty and numerous bugs.

The game’s story is set in 1920s Massachusetts and follows Jack Walters, a former cop whose career as a Boston detective ends tragically. Walters, now a private eye, is hired to investigate the disappearance of Brian Burnham, a grocery store manager who’s gone missing in a creepy village called Innsmouth.

This is a down-on-his-luck gumshoe if ever I've seen one.

This is a down-on-his-luck gumshoe if ever I’ve seen one.

Walters arrives in Innsmouth, the dreariest seaside shitheap since the Jersey Shore, and immediately puts his police skills to use. Problem is, the locals aren’t talking. Most have claimed never to have even seen Brian, much less know of his disappearance. Even the town’s police department offers no help, but plenty of obfuscation. Cops rope off Brian’s store and threaten arrest if you attempt entry.

Walters notices other oddities about the town. The weather seems unusually cold and wet, there’s a big ziggurat thing in the middle of town, and the people… well… they look a little different.

Jesus... what do we call these guys? Gollum Goldfish? Icthyian Mass-holes?

Jesus… what do we call these guys? Gollum Groupers? Ichthian Mass-holes?

As Walters, you have fewer tools than you’d like for snooping around Innsmouth. You have no weapons, at least at first, and must rely on stealth to get into restricted areas. Clues are scattered about various locales for you to find, and some are easier found than others. Stealth and investigative exploration are the two gameplay mechanics most present in Call of Cthulhu.

Another gameplay feature that caught my eye was the presence of a sanity meter. Walters will start to lose his mind if he stares at unsettling things for too long, and the game world will be distorted in response. Fictitious people, creepy voices, even demented whispers from Walters himself will fill your screen. And, if your bar drops too low, you might just commit suicide from the sheer horror of it all. Creepy stuff, but the sanity meter is a mechanic that would go on to be in my favorite horror game of all time: Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

Innsmouth contains some horrible stuff. Don't linger around it.

Innsmouth contains some horrible stuff. Gaze at your own risk.

The people of Innsmouth don’t like Walters poking around their town, and set out to kill him once he’s stepped on a few fins too many. Stealth becomes more crucial than ever as hulking fish-people stalk the streets, but we also see some gunplay introduced, with weapons drawn from the American arsenal of the 1920s. In fealty to its attempt at survival horror, Call of Cthulhu provides you with very limited ammunition, and maintaining it becomes as crucial as that of your health and sanity.

Call of Cthulhu also broke the gaming convention of its time by giving you no heads-up display. You have no visuals on your health, sanity or ammo. All of this is instead indicated by audio cues, from Jack’s grunt at a broken rib to a curse at being out of ammo. The game strips down the concepts of first-person shooters to give a more minimalist, immersive take on gameplay. You still have an inventory to peruse, but the usage of your items becomes another test of survival and resource management.

Am I the only one here who's sick of giant fish people?

Am I the only one here who’s sick of giant fish people?

Anyway, after an attempt on his life and a severe drubbing from the local constabulary, Jack escapes into the underground to find respite from hordes of angry villagers. The search for Brian Burnham becomes more complicated when an FBI agent and a wealthy heiress step out of Innsmouth’s shadow, and Jack is thrust into the center of a wider conflict between the human race and a submerged demigod we know all too well. Cthulhu fhtagn!!!

We're gonna need a bigger boat.

We’re gonna need a bigger boat.

So, what’s my take on this horror adventure set in a Lovecraftian play land? A survival horror game that bucks convention and is definitely the best digital adaptation of the Cthluhu mythos around today? Well, as with most games, Call of Cthulhu has its high points and low points. The high points are its intriguing narrative and spooky atmosphere, as you’ve hopefully felt from reading these words. The low points have much more to do with the game’s mechanics than its plot, and I think they ultimately ended up sabotaging its potential.

But first, the narrative. Call of Cthulhu is a well-written game, but I wouldn’t say it’s well-acted. All of our characters, including our sullen hero, deliver their lines with about as much emotion as can be found in a fish carcass. Jack Walters’s voice actor delivers his dialogue with nothing but drab monotony, even when giant fish-dudes with shotguns are trying to murder him. It breaks immersion when voice actors can’t facilitate emotions to accompany the written material, which in turn makes the game less scary. It also ruins character subplots, like a rather interesting series of flashbacks Jack has throughout the course of the game. These flashbacks would scare the hell out of a normal person, but he doesn’t bat an eyelash. So, what, then? Am I to treat these flashbacks as trivial?

Jack is about as interesting as a brick. Kinda looks like one too.

Jack is about as interesting as a brick. Kinda looks like one too.

The story’s other voice actors deliver similarly underwhelming performances. The beautiful heiress Jack hides with gives the yawniest oh-nos you’ve ever heard, even, again, when her life is in severe danger. It’s like the voice actors for this game trained for their roles by reading about the tropes of their characters, rather than actually practicing delivery. A very amateurish, very avoidable problem we have here.

On top of all this, can we admit that the grim alcoholic detective trope has only been used in, I don’t know, every detective story ever? This guy is hewn from the very core of flask-swigging private eye, and it shows. There’s one additional plot hole in which a person we’re evacuating out of Innsmouth just disappears for the rest of the game, with no indication of what happens to her next.

Flat dialogue always becomes humorous when delivered to hulking shark-men.

Flat dialogue always becomes humorous when delivered to hulking. clearly pissed-off shark-men.

Call of Cthulhu’s more substantial issues are its high difficulty and number of bugs. The former concern caused many to furiously quit the game, and it’s something I came close to doing myself several times throughout this adventure.

Call of Cthulhu is hard. Not just in a gameplay sense, but in a repetitious, grinding sense. The game will force you to redo meticulously scripted scenes dozens of times, and won’t let you proceed until you’ve grit your teeth into dust. There’s one scene in which Jack is ambushed in his hotel room, and I had to practice a meticulous series of lockings and openings over a dozen times before I got to the next area. By that point, the initial horror of having my hotel room broken into by gurgling squid-women had been worn away by the game’s own design flaws.

This game is too heavily scripted and riddled with meticulous, frustrating puzzles.

This game is too heavily scripted and riddled with meticulous, frustrating puzzles.

The game’s minimized first-person interface also brings its share of problems. Though I applaud any effort to make games more immersive (you know, as long as it works) Call of Cthulhu‘s vocal cue system is confusing at best. Jack has a full library of groans and grunts for any number of injuries, and the game does jack shit in telling you how bad the owie is.

“Hurry, Jack’s grunting!” says Call of Cthulhu.

“Okay,” says I, “How bad is the boo-boo, are we talking a paper cut, or internal hemorrhaging, because all I see on my character screen is a big red dot.”

“Oh GOD, enough with the questions!” Call of Cthulhu seems to reply.

To be fair, the game does an alright job of alerting you to some ailments. If my character starts limping, I can infer that my leg is injured. But the game doesn’t tell you how close the injury puts you to death, only that you have it. You only know you’re dead when you suddenly keel over and die.

And finally, Call of Cthulhu‘s high amount of game-breaking bugs. My game crashed several times, the sanity meter wouldn’t work, I suddenly had no ammo, the grunts telling me I was injured didn’t sound off, my first aid kit didn’t fix the wound, the list goes on, and on, and on, and on, and on.

Fish-medicine. Ain't it great.

DIE, GAME!!

By now you’ve probably concluded that you’re not interested in actually playing Call of Cthulhu, based on the numerous issues I’ve listed. So, why review it? Because though it’s a buggy mess, Call of Cthulhu has a few diamonds in the seaweed. The sanity meter, adapted from earlier titles such as Eternal Darkness, made its 5th-gen debut in Call of Cthulhu and underwent major refinements. Experiments in sight and sound distortion would inspire later games. And though Call of Cthulhu‘s design is flawed in many respects, its core remains ambitious, eager to show how horror can enhance multiple genres of gameplay simultaneously.

Flawed, but still spooky.

Flawed, but still spooky.

Additionally, Call of Cthulhu has some great artwork. I’m not full of enough shit to tell you that it’s all aged well, but the level design is tight and the atmosphere is of top-notch dread. The game’s clammy clam shacks and rain-drenched windows have a way of making chills go down your spine, and all within a range of subdued, grimy colors. It’s not enough to help the game stick the landing, but it is enough to convince me that a lot of love was put into the production.

So, yeah. While you might not be in a huge hurry to play Call of Cthulhu, it’s a visually diverse game that helped spawn the modern horror game scene, with other developers taking from what it toyed around with. It remains an important part of horror gaming… though I’m not sure Lovecraft would be thrilled with it.

____________________

You can buy Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.